08/25/2009, 00.00
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Bulldozers raze the Church of Tam Toa quashing Catholic demands

by Emily Nguyen
The government has decreed that the ruins of the ancient church will become a public park, having in mind to build a tourist village, and refuse to give it back to the Catholics for sacred use. Criticism from the bishop, who recalls the arrests, beatings, theft against the faithful by the police. On the day of the Assumption, 200 thousand people celebrated Mass at Xa Doi. Another 500 thousand, prevented by police from reaching the meeting place, celebrated Mass along the highway.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The standoff between the authorities of Hanoi and the Catholics of the diocese of Vinh (central Vietnam) for the use of the ruins of the church of Tam Toa came to an end on August 20 when city government bulldozers flattened the last shreds of the sacred building, leaving only the bell tower standing.

Days earlier, on 17 August, Ngau Bui Xuan, vice president of the People's Committee of Dong Hoi issued a decree (No 137/TB-UBND) ordering the conversion of the church of Tam Toa in a public park.

The bill is similar to the one issued in the cases of the former Nunciature of Hanoi and for the church of Thai Ha. In all three situations, the Catholics demanded a return to the rightful owners of the land that the government - after they were requisitioned for the public good - wanted to use for private real estate speculation. Faced with the resistance of the Catholics, the government has decided to change the destination of the land (for now) and have turned it into a public park.

In the defence of the sacred use of the Tam Toa church, Catholics were beaten, arrested, and robbed. Two priests were hospitalised and hundreds of thousands of faithful have held prayer vigils and sit-ins.

The church of Tam Toa stands on breathtaking scenery. Fr Claude Bonin who built it in 1887, chose a hill on the shore of Nhat Le river, thinking that it was easier for Catholics to reach the church by using boats. With the economic and building development of the town (Dong Hoi), the zone has become the most expensive in the area.

The greed of the party cadres led them first to determine that the remains of the church must serve as a war memorial (the church had been bombed by the Americans in the '60s). A tourist was to be built village around the ruins of the sacred building (cf. AsiaNews.it, 21/07/2009 Beatings and arrests of priests and faithful in the historic church of Tam Toa).

Already last year government bulldozers had cleared a lot of ground around Tam Toa and many luxury apartments have been built for members of local government. Days ago, after the decree that transform the site into a public park, construction was concluded. According to local witnesses, the Hanoi government, concerned about the publicity the case has received at home and abroad, decreed that the tower was also to be razed. But local authorities want to preserve it as an elegance feature in a future holiday village. This notwithstanding they are in complete agreement with Hanoi  to remove all traces of Catholicism from the region.

The office of the Diocese of Vinh has protested against Bui Xuan Ngau’s decree, but in vain.

For the Feast of the Assumption, on 15 August, at least 200 thousand people gathered in Xa Doi for mass. But another 500 thousand were detained by the police for fear of new pressures on the government. Those unable to reach Xa Doi for the celebration decided to celebrate Mass at the edge of the road, on Highway No. 1. The state media described the gesture as "illegal” and of goving rise to “public disorder", but for the locals it was "a wonderful scene, one never seen until now."

During the celebration on August 15, the Bishop of Vinh, Msgr. Mary Paul Cao Dinh Thuyen, 83, expressed his sorrow at police violence against Catholics.

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See also
Death threats against believers in Dong Hoi, as the police arrest a Catholic
Priest beaten into a coma by police. Catholics Protest throughout Vietnam
Half a million Vietnamese Catholics march through the streets against police violence
Catholic music to promote dialogue in Ambon, the city of sectarian violence
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Church leads the way in helping Vietnam cope with its educational emergency
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